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Fresh bid to kill of county's grammar schools

ANTI-grammar school activists are to make a fresh attempt to bring an end to the 11-plus in Kent and Medway by triggering a parental ballot on selection. The campaign group STEP – Stop The Eleven Plus – took the first step in the process this week with a formal request to the Electoral Reform Society to identify the number of parents it will need to sign a petition calling for a ballot.

A vote on the future of the 33 grammars in Kent and six in Medway could only go ahead once a petition had been signed by a fifth of all such eligible parents.

The fresh threat comes just one week after the government announced extra government cash for a handful of grammar schools and comprehensive schools who are joining forces to drive up standards. That was seen as a symbolic gesture indicating the government no longer wanted to scrap the country’s remaining 165 grammars.

STEP’s new campaign will not be confined to Kent and Medway. The group is orchestrating a wider national campaign and has made a similar request in twelve other selective education authorities. STEP chairman and Maidstone parent Rebecca Matthews acknowledged the rules meant a vote was unlikely. However, she said it was vital the government was made aware of the large numbers of pupils adversely affected by what was a “divisive and corrosive system.”

She said: “In asking the Electoral Reform Society to determine how many parents are directly affected by the 11-plus system, we will make it clear to the government that the 11-plus is not a forgotten part of history - as it believes - but continues to damage huge numbers of children and families."

One consequence of STEP’s decision is that every one of Kent’s 623 schools will now have to draw up a list of parents so a calculation can be made about how many will need to sign a petition. They will be paid to do this but some headteachers previously complained it created more administration.

STEP abandoned an earlier attempt to trigger a parental ballot in Kent in September last year. Campaigners fell way short of the 47,000 signatures needed for a vote in Kent and blamed the complicated and bureaucratic regulations on ballots for its decision.

Shadow education spokesman and Ashford MP Damian Green said the ballot regulations should be abolished. He said: “If the government is sincere about not wanting to attack grammar schools then we will give them a chance to show it. We will be tabling amendments to the Education Bill which will give greater protection to grammar schools from ballots."

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